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Patriot
08-07-2007, 9:52 AM
http://www.venturacountystar.com/news/2007/aug/07/more-cities-are-making-gun-owners-report-loss-to/

More cities are making gun owners report loss

Local officials seek to curb the illegal sale of firearms

Tuesday, August 7, 2007

A new gun control law is slowly winning approval in several Ventura County cities, giving authorities a unique way to crack down on the illegal sale of firearms.

So-called lost or stolen gun laws require owners to report missing weapons within 48 to 72 hours of their disappearance or face misdemeanor charges.

Thousand Oaks passed a law in March. Port Hueneme and Simi Valley recently adopted similar measures. Both require second readings before taking effect.

The Port Hueneme Council will hear the matter Wednesday. Simi Valley will address it Monday.

Gun-control advocates and public safety officials say the laws will close a loophole on illegal trafficking. California requires a 10-day waiting period for gun purchases, so authorities can run background checks on applicants. But nothing forbids someone who passes a background check from selling guns to someone who doesn't, an act known as a "straw purchase."

Local agencies aren't sure how many gun-related crimes are linked to straw purchases. A 2000 report by the federal Department of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives found that 30 percent of all guns in criminal investigations were obtained this way.

Local public safety officials believe the law holds merit.

"Anything that makes the community safer is beneficial," Port Hueneme Police Chief Fernando Estrella said, adding that gangs often obtain weapons through straw purchases.

Such laws educate the public "and make gun owners a little more accountable," Simi Valley Police Chief Mike Lewis said.

Half of Simi Valley's property crimes are committed by Los Angeles residents, Lewis said. He's hoping the ordinance will stem any potential migration of stolen guns from Simi Valley to parts south.

In Port Hueneme, an owner will have to report a missing or stolen weapon within 48 hours. Simi Valley and Thousand Oaks residents have up to 72 hours. Firearms lost or stolen within the past five years must be reported within 90 days of the law's approval.

Under the local ordinances, legitimate owners who do not report the loss and whose guns were used in a crime could face misdemeanor charges. Owners who flout the law and are linked to straw purchases face charges on not properly transferring the ownership of firearms.

Lewis stressed that authorities would have to determine if an owner knew a firearm was missing before citing someone. "Absent that, if it's a complete surprise to them, then there would be no enforcement of this ordinance," Lewis said.

If someone reports a missing firearm after the allowed time, authorities have the discretion to offer leeway because not everyone may know of the law, Lewis said.

But an "I didn't know it was missing" defense will only fly so many times. Using it too often will raise a red flag and bring more scrutiny by police, Lewis said.

A local chapter of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence is pushing the law in Ventura County. Similar laws have been adopted in Los Angeles, West Hollywood and Oakland, said Tim Heyne, with the Brady Campaign's local chapter.

In 2005, Heyne was shot and left for dead in his Thousand Oaks driveway during a Memorial Day weekend shooting spree that left his wife, best friend and a Santa Rosa Valley woman dead. The shooter, Toby Whelchel, shot himself to death in a Simi Valley Wal-Mart.

State lawmakers approved a similar measure last year, but Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger vetoed it, calling the language "ambiguous" and citing concern that the law would unfairly trap legitimate gun owners. Another measure requiring owners to report stolen or lost firearms within five days is pending in the state Senate.

Heyne, however, is lobbying cities because there's no assurances the governor will sign a state law.

Gun rights advocates oppose the laws, saying they victimize legitimate owners twice. First, you're robbed of your firearm; then you're prosecuted for admitting it was lost or stolen, said Rachel Parsons, spokeswoman with the National Rifle Association.

Long Beach civil rights attorney Chuck Michel, who represents the NRA in California, said the law would likely ensnare legitimate gun owners who report the loss not straw buyers.

Moreover, Michel and Parsons contend that responsible gun owners don't do daily checks of their firearms. "It is just like any expensive jewelry," Parsons said. "I put on my pearls and put them back in my safe."

Heyne disagreed.

"Everybody should know where their gun is," Heyne said, adding that the law doesn't target responsible owners. "What we're after are people who don't know where their gun is or haven't checked on it in years. This isn't a hairbrush. This is a lethal instrument of death."

I think these parts are key:

Under the local ordinances, legitimate owners who do not report the loss and whose guns were used in a crime could face misdemeanor charges. Owners who flout the law and are linked to straw purchases face charges on not properly transferring the ownership of firearms.

So if you're nice they might not file charges, unless they find that you've illegally transferred a firearm. In which case it is a felony, which trumps misdemeanor charges. (BTW, for reference, does anyone know the precise state/federal statutes on straw purchases and/or illegal transfers?) The only real use I can see for this law is if they bungles an investigation and can only make the misdemeanor stick.

This seems like a wild card for use when they can't prove that the usual suspects are actually doing anything illegal. In order to do that, wouldn't they have to document a transaction? The problem with such laws is one size fits all. What might be initially intended to curtail illegal transfers has the potential to be used to harass gunowners.

Lewis stressed that authorities would have to determine if an owner knew a firearm was missing before citing someone. "Absent that, if it's a complete surprise to them, then there would be no enforcement of this ordinance," Lewis said.

I'd like to see this codified. :rolleyes: Odds are if they can prove that someone knows a gun is missing, they have proof of an illegal transfer as well. Of course "determine" doesn't automatically mean prove, and the ambiguity is not reassuring.

"Everybody should know where their gun is," Heyne said, adding that the law doesn't target responsible owners. "What we're after are people who don't know where their gun is or haven't checked on it in years. This isn't a hairbrush. This is a lethal instrument of death."

While that is irresponsible, IMHO it's hardly deserving of criminal charges. What about kitchen knives, golf clubs, automobiles, etc. They're all lethal instruments of death in the wrong hands.

Of far more interest is the fact that he doesn't say they're after straw purchasers, but rather oblivious gun owners. Tsk, tsk. The antis need a more obfuscatory spokesperson.

McMadCow
08-07-2007, 10:07 AM
I love how the article says that there's nothing in the law forbidding straw purchases. You know, besides that whole "law that says every transfer must be through an FFL". Other than that one law that encompasses everything, there's nothing forbidding it. :rolleyes:

Patriot
08-07-2007, 11:29 AM
I love how the article says that there's nothing in the law forbidding straw purchases. You know, besides that whole "law that says every transfer must be through an FFL". Other than that one law that encompasses everything, there's nothing forbidding it. :rolleyes:

California requires a 10-day waiting period for gun purchases, so authorities can run background checks on applicants. But nothing forbids someone who passes a background check from selling guns to someone who doesn't, an act known as a "straw purchase."

I might call/write the paper regarding this if someone here can point out the applicable state/federal laws...I think IIRC the federal one was in the Gun Control Act of 1968, but I don't know where.

Rob P.
08-07-2007, 11:57 AM
It's what I call and "ambush" law. You know, one of those laws which are only used to hurt the innocent because there isn't anyyhing else that they can use for punishment.

I find it funny that legislators are trying to pass a law to punish the victim of a crime for failing to report being a victim. That's just about as unjust and unfair as I can imagine and I'm sure that most would agree.